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Local government funding crashes 39% in past decade, says Arts Index

Bath. Photo: Andrew Desmond/Shutterstock Bath and North East Somerset Council abolished small project grants for the arts in February 2017. Photo: Andrew Desmond/Shutterstock
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Funding from local government has crashed, falling more than any other indicator of the sector’s health in the past decade, according to the findings of the 2017 Arts Index.

It is one of several serious causes for concern for culture in England, highlighted by the National Campaign for the Arts, which puts together the study.

The document, published biennially as a “health check” of the arts, measures 20 indicators including changes to funding from the Treasury, Lottery and local authorities, individual and corporate giving, employment levels and attendance.

It also tracks the take-up of creative GCSEs and public attitudes towards the arts, with each indicator translated on to an index points scale to enable comparisons about the overall health of the sector from year to year.

The latest edition, updated to include figures from 2014/15 and 2015/16, found that local government funding for the arts, per person, “continues to crash”, falling by 15 points since the index was last published.

It has dropped by more than a third since the index began in 2007/08 – the most dramatic drop among the 20 indicators.

In 2008/09, the amount invested in the arts by councils amounted to £9.59 per person, sliding by 39% to £5.87 per person in 2015/16. The fall in the past six years has been particularly steep, the analysis notes.

Other headline findings include the continued decrease of combined public funding – Treasury, local government and Lottery – which has fallen six points in this edition of the index and a fifth since 2007/8.

This has meant that arts organisations have shifted towards a mixed-economy model that is more reliant on earned income, which has increased, the study says.

Public support of arts funding from taxes has also decreased in this edition, but support for Lottery funding is on the up, the index says – although it should be noted that both of these have relatively small samples.

Individual giving is also on the rise, following a 67% surge in philanthropy in 2014/15. This is despite a fall in business contributions to the arts.

Actor Samuel West, chair of the National Campaign for the Arts, argues that falling public funding is contributing to the continued rise in ticket prices, which means the arts are becoming increasingly gentrified.

He told The Stage: “Levels of participation and engagement are not changing, which means that as prices go up, the demographic that can afford it gets narrower.”

West also criticised the increasing reliance on Lottery funding. Some Arts Council England national portfolio organisations are now funded wholly by this stream, despite the fact that Lottery receipts are decreasing.

“Lottery receipts vary historically according to the nation’s mood and that makes it very difficult for organisations that are partially – or, as we are now seeing, wholly – funded by the Lottery to hedge against those. That money is not sustainable,” West said.

He warned of the “worrying” impact of fewer young people taking creative GCSEs, a new indicator in this edition.

In 2007/08, 6.7% of GCSE entries were for creative arts subjects, according to the index, falling to 5.3% in 2015/16.

He said: “The prime minister has said we would need to be creative and imaginative post-Brexit. At this point we are entitled to ask: since the government’s education policy does not include creative subjects in the core curriculum and the take-up of those subjects is down a fifth in the past decade, where does she expect the creative, imaginative citizens of the future to come from?”

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